The Messiah-Shtick

I wrote it for American Thinker, where you can read it, or you can read it here:

Messiah:  “One who is anticipated as, regarded as, or professes to be a savior or liberator.”  American Heritage Dictionary
Schtick: “Yiddish slang meaning “gimmick” that has come to mean “someone’s signature behavior.”

He presents as a fairly nice-looking guy with a slightly dorky quality (I think it’s the Bing Crosby ears); who is a smooth, albeit soporific, speaker; who boasts an Ivy League background sullied by the suspicion that he benefited as much from affirmative action as from his own virtues; and who demonstrates a sound grasp of shady Chicago style politics, including, during a remarkably short and generally undistinguished career, some pretty vicious and opportunistic conduct.  I am talking, of course, about Barack Obama, a man who has shot from relative obscurity to the forefront of American politics.

To those who worship at his shrine, though, there is nothing ordinary about him.  To them, he is the embodiment of all virtues.  If you are doodling around with Google and type in the phrase “Obama articulate,” you’ll get about 277,000 results.  It’s even more fun to type in “Obama handsome.”  Then you get about 330,000 results.
That’s just word play, though.  The real fawning comes in the way people describe their emotional reactions to this former unknown from Illinois.  Take the example of Chris Matthews, an MSNBC talking head whom one might naively credit with a little bit of professional objectivity.  After hearing one of Obama’s speeches, Matthews giddily said “My, I felt this thrill going up my leg. I mean, I don’t have that too often.”  One is afraid to ask what other experiences have occasioned Matthews’ exciting little leg vibration.
And then there’s the fainting:  At speech after speech, it seems, ladies swoon merely from being in his presence.  There hasn’t been this orgy of public fainting since Frank Sinatra or, perhaps, the Beatles.  The fact that this whole thing may be the work of one or two determined fans, doesn’t seem to affect some people’s belief that it is right and appropriate that women are literally knocked flat on their butts by his aura.
One might dismiss all of this as the ravings of a celebrity culture, trained to become hysterical in the presence of fame, were it not for the vaguely religious note that keeps appearing when political commentators start writing about him.  Andrew Sullivan, a devout Obama supporter, after admitting that Obama has little going for him in terms of such practical matters as experience or knowledge, nevertheless describes the meaning of his candidacy in shamanistic tones.
Sullivan notes that timing is everything, with Obama coming along at a time when people are sick and tired of the old Baby Boomer politics and weary of the culture wars.  It is in this context, says Sullivan, that “Obama’s candidacy in this sense is a potentially transformational one.”  In other words, despite his admittedly tired old Leftist politics, Obama, just by being himself, will miraculously bind us all together.
Sullivan is not alone.  Last week, when Bill Richardson ditched his former pal Hillary to endorse Obama, he used almost precisely the same idea to describe Obama’s candidacy.  Richardson stepped to the podium and boldly announced that Obama is

“the kind of once-in-a-lifetime leader that can bring our nation together and restore America’s moral leadership in the world.”

Richardson’s stated reason for believing Obama holds this power lies, not in what Obama has done (which is pretty much nothing), but in the fact, says Richardson, that he is a “new generation” who “touched” Richardson with his speech on race.  (More on that speech later.)   I assume that, for the average Obama groupie, those two concepts sound like good reasons to elect a political neophyte as President during a time of war and economic uncertainty.  It’s the “Wow!” factor.
This kind of soft, worshipful rhetoric is typical for those endorsing Obama.  Deprived of a candidate who has actual done anything or even stood for anything, they fall back on emotion-laden platitudes that place Obama on a level above that of ordinary mortals.  Already a year ago David Ehrenstein was assuring all of us that Obama can be seen as the “magic negro,” capable of functioning as a benign black figure who will make whites feel good about themselves.
Given how rich white liberals have flocked to Obama’s banner, it’s clear that Ehrenstein was on to something there.  It’s too bad that Obama’s benignity was shot to pieces with the revelation that his “spiritual mentor,” long-term pastor and political advisor, Jeremiah Wright, was a racist crackpot, whom Obama revered, ignored or tolerated, depending on which version of the truth Obama feels like spreading around on any given day.
Even the iconography surrounding Barack Obama has a different feel from that typical for a political campaign.  In recent years, the usual political poster simply has the candidate’s name in patriotic colors, as well as some nice adjectives testifying to his leadership abilities and experience.  Here’s a good example:

Sometimes the campaign posters have the candidate’s picture, which is invariably a color photograph of the candidate looking either firm or friendly.  This is an example from the Clinton campaign, with Clinton valiantly smiling past her ice maiden reputation:
Hillary Button

Things are a bit different when it comes to the Obama material.  The Obama Online store, which is an official arm of the Obama campaign, tagged Shepard Fairey to create a limited edition poster for the Obama presidential campaign.  This poster transcends the usual sign aimed at allowing supporters to make their feelings known, while ensuring that the general public gets a surfeit of the candidates’ names and faces.  Here, look:
Change Obama

As you see, Obama is no longer an ordinary mortal.  Instead, he has been elevated to a symbolic level, where his name is unnecessary (we all know it, don’t we?), his goal is unmentioned (I think he’s above petty politics), and his qualifications are irrelevant (good thing, too, since he doesn’t have any).  Instead, all that’s left is his almost superhuman visage, which is allied with one magical word:  “change.”  The political poster has been transformed from advertisement to iconography.
For many months now, I’ve been inclined to slough all of this messiah-shtick stuff off, attributing it to those liberal fans who operate from a strong emotional base that manages to side step reason.  Reason, of course, would point out that his politics are indistinguishable from other ultra liberal Democrats and his experience minimal.  As Geraldine Ferraro was tacky enough to point out — how un-Democratic of her — the only pragmatic advantage he has over other like-minded candidates is his skin color.
Obama’s recent race speech, however, indicates that Obama is beginning to believe his own publicity.  As everyone now knows, Obama opened by speaking accurately, and movingly, about the way in America’s promised freedom was compromised from its inception by the taint of slavery, a taint that he sees as unrelieved by the hundreds of thousands of lives lost in the Civil War, the remarkable courage of the Civil Rights movement, and the mass re-education of American attitudes in the 40 plus years since the Civil Rights movement.  The Wright experience, of course, has shown us that Obama is not alone in this jaundiced view of America’s progress regarding race.
What makes Obama different from other African Americans, who do not find any cause for celebration in America’s racial progress, is the way in which he sees himself as a necessary fulfillment of the Civil Rights movement.  Thus, immediately after referring with great brevity to both the Civil War and the Civil Rights movement, Obama put his own candidacy front and center:

“This was one of the tasks we set forth at the beginning of this campaign — to continue the long march of those who came before us, a march for a more just, more equal, more free, more caring and more prosperous America. I chose to run for the presidency at this moment in history because I believe deeply that we cannot solve the challenges of our time unless we solve them together — unless we perfect our union by understanding that we may have different stories, but we hold common hopes; that we may not look the same and we may not have come from the same place, but we all want to move in the same direction — towards a better future for of children and our grandchildren.”

In other words, it is Obama himself who will bring to fruition Martin Luther King’s dream of a post-racial America.  To this end, Obama is not advancing himself as one who should be President because he’s the best man for the job, but as one who should become President because he, personally, by being some racial fulfillment incarnate, will save us from the last remaining “stains” that the Founders created.
Nor is this concept merely inept phrasing on Obama’s part (perish the thought), or hypercritical reading on my part.  Obama made precisely the same point a second time in his speech.  After establishing his racial bona fides by describing his mixed ancestry,* he again presented himself as the living embodiment of racial healing:

“Throughout the first year of this campaign, against all predictions to the contrary, we saw how hungry the American people were for this message of unity. Despite the temptation to view my candidacy through a purely racial lens, we won commanding victories in states with some of the whitest populations in the country. In South Carolina, where the Confederate Flag still flies, we built a powerful coalition of African Americans and white Americans.”

Thus, even as Obama said that it is a mistake to view his candidacy “through a purely racial lens,” he boasted that it was he who bound together the races.  This is also a “racial lens,” although a unifying one, not the divisive one the Wright shouted from his pulpit.
What is apparent is that, through these pronouncements about the transcendent meaning of his candidacy, Obama accepts Andrew Sullivan’s hagiographic conclusion that his candidacy is a “transformational one,” not because of what he brings to the table, but simply because of who he is.  He is the racial messiah, one who, simply by being, will save America from the stain on her soul.
It is, in its own way, a charming conceit.  Unfortunately, though, Obama’s presidency won’t end the moment he is sworn in, with an orgy of racial healing, followed by a fade-out to a glorious sunset.  Instead, as he’s made plain time and time again, including in his speech on race, once the orgasmic feeling of having elected “the One” passes away, Americans will awake to discover that, in fact, they have bedded down with the same old, same old.  This is messianic politics only if ones idea of salvation is the usual Democratic fare of big government, big taxes, and big denial when it comes to the realities of World War IV.
* Incidentally, one of the most pernicious legacies of slavery is the fact that most African-Americans are, in fact, of mixed race – a genetic reality that forced racist Americans to create the horrific “one drop rule” to distinguish themselves from their brothers and sisters of color.)

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  • Mike Devx

    Here’s a Reagan quote about which I want to make a point:

    “And let me offer lesson No. 1 about America: All great change in America begins at the dinner table. So, tomorrow night in the kitchen I hope the talking begins. And children, if your parents haven’t been teaching you what it means to be an American, let ’em know and nail ’em on it. That would be a very American thing to do.”

    Now, that’s a good quote. But when I SAW a video of President Reagan speaking these words, I practically got a chill down my spine. The look in his eyes and the set of his mouth when he told the kids about their parents “to nail em on it” was pure classic. It was tough beyond belief.

    Sometimes the delivery is as important as the words themselves.

    Book, I wonder if you’ll ever again have anything to say about Hillary as well as Obama? Take a look at the Bosnia sniper fiasco, and compare them to other lies when she was sure to be caught out. Analyze why she feels so comfortable engaging in such lies, and so many of them, when she’s sure to be caught. Why would someone lie in that way over and over and over again? Certainly that must also speak volumes about character?

  • Helen Losse

    If only you had left off “This is messianic politics only if ones idea of salvation is the usual Democratic fare of big government, big taxes, and big denial when it comes to the realities of World War IV,” we’d be on our way.

  • Bookworm

    Helen, that is very nice of you to say that. I know we disagree about a few fundamental things regarding government’s purpose, but I consider it high praise indeed that you agree with the rest of my article. Thank you!

  • Friend of USA

    For what it is worth,

    Chris Matthews said,

    “My, I felt this thrill going up my leg. I mean, I don’t have that too often.”

    up his leg?…err…but where did the thrill stop? yikes!!!

    Hasn’t the fainting for Obama stopped now that some people have said it was suspicious? And if it has stopped or there is less of it, it could very well mean it was staged…

    Obama’s poster reminds me of communist propaganda posters or some revolution posters…Obama reminds me Che Guevara in the above poster…

    Geraldine Ferrero said Obama would not be where he is if he was not black
    ( and she is right; the fact she was treated so harshely for saying so only confirms the power being black gives Obama )
    and although this might seem silly, I think if he did not have the voice he has, he would not be where he is now.

    When I hear Obama’s voice on TV I always think he should have been an actor doing live plays, or he should narrate documentaries on PBS.
    I read somewhere someone described Obama’s voice to be appealing as “molasses”.

    To women it is a very seductive voice- a sort of irresistible male siren call – and to men it has a somewhat hypnoptic tone to it. ( Think of Chris Matthews feeling up his leg…)
    The problem is that most people can not see the difference between content and wrapping.
    Obama’s voice, his being articulate, his looks and so on, all this is wrapping like on a christmas gift, and too many people are blinded by the nice wrapping and do not pay attention to the content which in the case of Obama is mostly an empty box.

  • jj

    One thing you didn’t mention – perhaps you didn’t need to, the picture does that – is how reminiscent of 1930s-era totalitarian-state politicking it is. Hitler’s, Stalin’s, and Mussolini’s people would recognize and feel right at home with the style of the Obama poster: they invented it.

    I guess whoever’s responsible for approving the poster figures they can get away with it: most of the generation that would instantly twig to the stylistics is gone, and the current generation is so ill-educated it’s meaningless to them, (and, after all, it worked for Hitler, Stalin, and Mussolini).

    For me it just reinforces yet again what a knowledge, experience, and context-free zone this guy is – he probably thinks it’s pretty cool – but it is amazing.

  • Friend of USA

    Any Italians here?

    Read what Obama’s mentor has to say about you (and more anti-white and anti-USA stuff)

    ( – Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., pastor emeritus of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago where Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) has been a member for two decades, slurred Italians in a piece published in the most recent issue of Trumpet Newsmagazine.

    “(Jesus’) enemies had their opinion about Him,” Wright wrote in a eulogy of the late scholar Asa Hilliard in the November/December 2007 issue. “The Italians for the most part looked down their garlic noses at the Galileans.”

    Wright continued, “From the circumstances surrounding Jesus’ birth (in a barn in a township that was under the Apartheid Roman government that said his daddy had to be in), up to and including the circumstances surrounding Jesus’ death on a cross, a Roman cross, public lynching Italian style. …

    “He refused to be defined by others and Dr. Asa Hilliard also refused to be defined by others. The government runs everything from the White House to the schoolhouse, from the Capitol to the Klan, white supremacy is clearly in charge, but Asa, like Jesus, refused to be defined by an oppressive government because Asa got his identity from an Omnipotent God.”

    Anyone still doubts Jeremia Wright is a racist?

    But Obama can not disown him… of course…of course…

  • Danny Lemieux

    It’s funny that you would end this post with a reference to the “one-drop” definition of race, a concept that Liberal/Lefties seem to have totally bought into. By race (1/2- white) and upbringing (mostly white, some Indonesian…maybe), Obama qualifies as half-African, half-white American Yet, it is he and his fellow travelers that make a claim on Obama’s “African American” heritage solely on the basis of his skin color.

    As I have posted here before: scratch a Liberal/Lefty and you will find a living, breathing racist.

  • Deana

    JJ –

    You said exactly what I was thinking.

    Every time I see that poster of Obama, it immediately makes me think of Stalin, maybe Mao. I’m not saying that Obama is like Stalin or anything like that – it’s just that the similarities in appearance and style are eerie – so much so that you would have thought that the people who created it would have paused and said, “What a minute – this might cause people to feel uneasy – it might give a negative connotation.” Apparently, they didn’t.


  • Al

    Really good post, BW. And the links you provide are an eye-opening and riveting seminar in the quantity of mass that is Barrak Oboma. Required reading for all of us. One wonders if another President Clinton would be “better” for the country than a President Obama.
    Forewarned is forearmed. It is going to be a very interesting champaign.

  • Bookworm

    Deana: Even if they had that thought, I don’t know that it would have stopped them. Remember that, to the hard core, the true believers, Mao or Stalin weren’t that bad. After all these are people who dress up their babies in Che clothes. For them to imagine reactions outside of that box is almost impossible.

  • Deana

    Hi Bookworm –

    In my head, I know you are right about the really hard core folks.

    The place where I struggle a little bit is this: most of the people I know who support Obama are not really hard-core. They are just nice, not un-intelligent people. So why aren’t they getting that little feeling of warning or danger in their gut when they read or see references to Obama that cast him in this other-worldly light?

    I suspect it may have something to do go back to what you said earlier – that liberals tend to act on emotions vs. reason. (I’m sure that claim really rattles the left but then, when was the last time you saw thousands of conservatives participating in highly emotional marches? And why is there such a difference in tone and interaction between people on conservative websites versus those who frequent places like Kos and other liberal websites? Reasoning and providing facts that form a basis for their argument is not a liberal strong point.)

    Not that this affects only American liberals. I think it was yesterday that I heard a piece on NPR in which the reporter was talking to Europeans who were absolutely thrilled at the prospect of a black or female American president. Mind you – not a word was said about policies or stances on anything – it was just the very idea of a black or female American president that excited them.

    So let’s say that Obama or Clinton DID become president. Precisely how would that make the lives of Europeans better? Well that was not discussed. I guess it didn’t matter – people FELT better just thinking about it. Meanwhile, there is massive unrest in the Middle East, a growing Islamic problem in Europe, economic troubles throughout the continent, all issues with outcomes that will be significantly affected by who is in the White House and the manner in which American power and influence is exercised. Shouldn’t these things be considered before Europeans jump onto the Obamamania bandwagon?

    Oh, well. As Al said, it is going to be a fascinating campaign season.


  • Bookworm


    I really liked your point about “highly emotional marches” because I was just thinking about that the other day. We on the right enjoy sites such as Zombie and Protest Shooter, because they take pictures of the lunacy of the Left when it comes to marches and protests. I always imagine Zombie and Protest Shooter going around with a hidden camera because I would be embarrassed to be seen as these protesters are, so I stupidly assume that these people won’t want to get photographed for posterity either. I was brought to a full awareness of how stupid my attitude was when I went to Fog City Journal, a progressive San Francisco website, and saw them proudly publish precisely the photos Zombie and Protest Shooter snapped. The protesters were posing for the cameras. To them, this is theater. That’s the difference. It’s not a rational attempt to affect the political process, it’s performance art. They hope, of course, to make a change; but mostly they hope to create a ruckus. It’s the anti-intellectual approach to argument, akin to a toddler’s temper tantrum.

  • suek

    >>Schtick: “Yiddish slang meaning “gimmick” that has come to mean “someone’s signature behavior.”>>

    I have some german fluency. Much of yiddish slang has german origins. “Schtick” is a form of “Schtuck” (with an umlaut u, which is pronounced as sort of “ew-ii”, but not exactly, which means that Schtick is pretty close). A “Schtuck” is a play, so I suspect the origin of the “Schtick” is more the memorized lines of a play…

    Not to disagree with you, but if you think of it as playing a role instead of “signature behavior”, I think it’s more accurate. After all, a person could have “signature behavior” as part of an obsessive-compulsive behavior. And of course, that could be what it is, but I sort of think that it’s a bit more contrived than that! jmho…

  • ProtestShooter

    re: #12 I’ve only had one person so far look surprised that I took their picture, and nobody yet displeased. I’ve been thanked several times. Basically you don’t go to the trouble of handmaking a sign and showing up at a protest unless you want to get word out, and not just word that you’re supporting the cause via carrying a pre-made sign, but your own individual opinion.

  • Gringo

    If you are doodling around with Google and type in the phrase “Obama articulate,” you’ll get about 277,000 results. It’s even more fun to type in “Obama handsome.” Then you get about 330,000 results.

    Guess what : the world is catching up with Obama

    Results 1 – 10 of about 313,000 for obama waffle.

    The Demos DO have a talent for picking such candidates, it appears.

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